“With this recital Shai Wosner declares himself a Schubertian of unfaltering authority and character.”—Gramophone

“[The Parker Quartet’s] polished presence and fresh approach make them a formidable force already, and pave the way for even richer musical interpretations as they continue to mature as individuals and artists.”—Denver Post

The effect Schubert and his music has had on musicians and music-lovers resounds through the centuries. Six artists who thrive on the collaborative process share his effect on them with some of Schubert’s best-loved works, including the magnificent “Trout” Quintet.

Shai Wosner and the Parker Quartet worked with Hungarian composer György Kurtág and understand his musical attributes and influences. Their unique presentation of both composers’ Moments musicaux consecutively will reveal astonishing relationships within both men’s artistic spirit.


Shai Wosner, piano
Parker Quartet
      Daniel Chong, violin
      Ying Xue, violin
      Jessica Bodner, viola
      Kee-Hyun Kim, cello
Timothy Cobb, double bass


SCHUBERT: Quartettsatz in C minor, D. 703
SCHUBERT: Moments musicaux for Piano, D. 780
KURTÁG: Moments Musicaux for String Quartet
SCHUBERT: Quintet for Piano and Strings in A major, D. 667, “Trout”

 

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WGBH Music: Parker String Quartet plays Mozart's "String Quartet No. 23 in F Major"

Schubert / Emil Gilels / Amadeus Quartet, 1976: Piano Quintet in A major ("Trout")

Explore the Music

(Click the names below to expand info.)

Statement from the artist: Shai Wosner, piano & series curator

THE SCHUBERT EFFECT

By Shai Wosner

What do we mean when we say “Schubertian?” Is it the lyricism of Schubert's songs? The philosophy of the piano sonatas? The Viennese lilt of an irresistible tune? Or perhaps the dark undertows amidst the sunniest of passages (which, by the way, is just as Viennese)?

Of course, all of the above are inseparable elements of what makes Schubert's music so profoundly expressive. But even beyond all that, Schubert is utterly unique in the way he redefines the most basic element of music—time.

Schubert's sense of time has a certain duality to it— almost a kind of a Schubert Effect—that makes it seem as if time is somehow magically both moving and suspended. His music has a clear feeling of narrative, but it is essentially driven more by contemplation rather than by the clash of contrasting elements, as was in the music of his predecessors. In other words, while we still clearly sense the structures Schubert inherited from Mozart and Beethoven, he loosens their taut dramatic argument so that even the busiest of movements is imbued with an unmistakably Schubertian spaciousness. His music lacks no drama, to be sure; yet alongside even the most violent outbursts of anguish, an inner, inexorable flow prevails and lends the music an air of introspection.

What’s more, this duality of Schubert's musical time isn't about tempo or speed. Rather, it has more to do with the way we perceive the entirety of a movement or even of a whole work. Thus, a frenetic tarantella, like the one that closes the D-minor String Quartet, D. 810 (“Death and the Maiden”), can both feel claustrophobically anxious on one level and yet also assume an expansive scope overall. Or consider the bleak Andantino of his A-major Sonata, D. 959 and its looping rhythmic patterns; they seem to be at once both moving and frozen in place—like a lonely wanderer who is a mere dot on an endless, snowy plain.

This expansiveness is in the very nature of Schubert's music, regardless of duration. It can be felt from bar to bar and in the moment, as the music unfolds with a spontaneity that doesn’t tell us if a piece will last five minutes or fifty.

In his longest, grandest works, Schubert can nevertheless be at his most intimate and personal, while in his shorter pieces—like the meditative Moments Musicaux—there is a sense of some broader dimension beyond the “confines” of the piece itself, as if we are looking at the horizon through the window of a small room. It is music that often seems to hint at something much bigger than its relative brevity might otherwise suggest, as do György Kurtag's own 21st-century Moments Musicaux and his Aus der Ferne (From Afar), which condenses the melancholy of unbridgeable distances into three minutes.

Paradoxically, Schubert achieves the feeling of timelessness through the combined use of motion (rhythmic patterns) and repetition in a way that not only foreshadows Bruckner and Mahler but almost makes him a distant, improbable precursor of Minimalism. In the dreamy timelessness of Missy Mazzoli's Minimalist-influenced Isabelle Eberhardt Dreams of Pianos, faint echoes of Schubert are heard in a mix of live and prerecorded pianos—sound and its memory combined into a kind of a musical time warp.


Photo: Marco Borggreve

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FRANZ SCHUBERT: Quartettsatz in C minor, D. 703

FRANZ SCHUBERT

Born in Vienna, January 31, 1797; died there, November 19, 1828
Quartettsatz in C minor, D. 703
Composed in 1820; 8 minutes

Schubert’s youthful appetite for chamber music—he was barely 13 when he wrote his first string quartet—was nourished by the happy circumstance of having a family quartet under his own roof. His brother Ferdinand fondly recalled the “uncommon pleasure” of playing first violin to young Franz’s viola, while their brother Ignaz and their father rounded out the ensemble. There was no question who was in charge. “Whenever a mistake was made, were it never so small, [Franz] would look the guilty one in the face, either seriously or sometimes with a smile; if Papa, who played the cello, was in the wrong, he would say nothing at first, but if the mistake was repeated, he would say quite shyly and smilingly: ‘Sir, there must be a mistake somewhere!’, and our good father would gladly be taught by him.”

One presumes that the comparatively modest demands made by the dozen or so string quartets that Schubert wrote in his teenage years strained neither his father’s instrumental technique nor domestic harmony. But when the composer returned to the quartet medium in December 1820, after a hiatus of some four years, his musical language had evolved far beyond the capacities of the average amateur musician. Indeed, Schubert himself seems to have been somewhat overwhelmed by his newfound range and intensity of expression. After completing the first movement of his C-minor Quartet and drafting some 40 bars of a slow movement in A-flat major, he either set the score aside temporarily or abandoned it altogether. The Quartettsatz (Quartet Movement) remained a tantalizing torso, unpublished for more than four decades after the composer’s death.

Even today, the untamed dramatic power of Schubert’s music is profoundly unsettling. Like Beethoven, he felt driven to push vigorously against the envelope of the classical style that had defined his earlier quartets. Although the Quartettsatz observes the conventional classical proprieties, with its two complementary themes, in darkling C minor and burnished A-flat major, and the pleasing symmetry of its almost-mirror-image halves, the shifting chromaticism of the development section effectively negates a clear sense of tonal balance. Rhythmically, too, the music simmers with a repressed, pulsating energy that periodically explodes but never quite reaches a full boil. The compression of this orphaned Allegro assai is unusual for Schubert and may offer a clue as to why he left the quartet unfinished. The ending is as enigmatic as it is electrifying: the taut, swelling tremolos of the recapitulated opening theme are abruptly cut short, leaving the listener hanging on tenterhooks.

© 2014 Harry Haskell

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FRANZ SCHUBERT: Moments musicaux for Piano, D. 780

FRANZ SCHUBERT

Moments musicaux for Piano, D. 780
Composed in 1823–1828; 30 minutes

Although these six captivating miniatures are traditionally performed as a set, there is no evidence that Schubert regarded them as such. In fact, they were composed at various times over the last five years of the composer’s life and only brought together after his death, under a novel title dreamed up by a Viennese publisher. The Moments musicaux (Musical Moments) belong to the tradition of short, self-contained character pieces beloved of Romantic composers that went by various names, including bagatelles, impromptus, fantasy pieces and songs without words. Their unpretentious brevity provided an ideal vehicle for Schubert’s lyrical genius.

To confuse matters further, numbers 3 and 6 of the Moments musicaux originally had their own descriptive titles. The former—a brisk, high-stepping dance in 2/4 meter that quickly became an audience favorite—was called Air russe (Russian Air) for no discernible reason when it first appeared in 1823. The latter was published a year later as Plaintes d’un troubadour (Laments of a Troubadour), a no less fanciful title, but one that at least captured the music’s mood of bittersweet melancholy.

Schubert’s opening Moderato has a distinctly outdoorsy feeling, with its leaping, yodel-like melody in C major, insistent cuckoo calls and echo effects. Both it and the concluding Allegretto are cast in the familiar mold of triple-time minuets with contrasting trio sections in the middle. Other pieces ring variations on this time-honored ABA form; the lilting, barcarolle-like theme of the Andantino (no. 2) is heard not twice but three times, while the brief coda of the second Moderato (no. 4) juxtaposes snatches of both A and B sections. The Allegro vivace (no. 5), in somber F minor, exudes a demonic energy in its racing dactylic rhythms and sharp dynamic contrasts.

© 2014 Harry Haskell

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GYÖRGY KURTÁG: 6 moments musicaux for String Quartet

GYÖRGY KURTÁG

Born in Lugoj, Romania, February 19, 1926
6 moments musicaux for String Quartet
Composed 1999–2005; 15 minutes

6 moments musicaux, the last of György Kurtág’s multimovement string quartets, borrows its name and some elements of its formal design from Schubert’s set, though it takes barely half as long to perform. As the critic Paul Griffiths has observed, the string quartet “is a medium in which Kurtág is thoroughly at home; he speaks quartettish as his native language, writing always eloquently with the soft pencil of quartet sounds—a pencil that can be pressed hard to make lines of glistening intensity or barely brushed across the paper, leaving trails like smoke.” Indeed, at one stage of his career the Hungarian composer made a large number of ink drawings, in which he literally pressed pen to paper and forced his hand to tremble, generating a kind of spontaneous gestural sketch.

In distilling music to its basic elements, Kurtág often seems to be putting sounds together for the sheer joy and adventure of it. His work has a sensuous, almost tactile quality that invites close listening. Like most of his scores, the Six moments musicaux present a clear and elegant appearance on the printed page; the eye can parse the music as readily as the ear. Here, as in other works, Kurtág reveals himself as a habitual recycler of his own music. (Much of the raw material in the Moments musicaux is lifted from his ongoing series of piano miniatures titled Játékok, or “Games.”) Characteristically, too, texture, color and gesture take precedence over harmony, which Kurtág once described, in characteristically evocative language, as “melody pressed like a flower.”

As in Schubert’s Moments musicaux, the character of Kurtág’s first and last pieces is respectively annunciatory and valedictory, while the third and fifth pieces are bright, fast and flighty. The second movement, Footfalls, proceeds by fits and starts in a softly measured tread, punctuated by silences, that echoes the halting pace of Schubert’s Andantino. The fourth movement is dedicated to the Hungarian pianist György Sebök, a noted interpreter of Bach; it incorporates a musical anagram of Bach’s name near the end, again recalling Schubert’s evocation of Bach’s two-part inventions in his second Moderato.

© 2014 Harry Haskell

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FRANZ SCHUBERT: Quintet for Piano and Strings in A major, D. 667, “Trout”

FRANZ SCHUBERT

Quintet for Piano and Strings in A major, D. 667, “Trout”
Composed in 1819; 35 minutes

The song Die Forelle (The Trout) is one of Schubert’s most winsome creations, as beloved in his own day as it is in ours. On the surface, the musical image of a fish darting through bright water as waves gently lap at the brook’s banks is a guileless specimen of Romantic tone painting. Like so many of Schubert’s lieder, however, this miniature masterpiece has hidden depths, which the composer plumbed when he adapted Die Forelle as a set of variations for the unconventional—and somewhat incongruous—ensemble of piano, violin, viola, cello and double bass.

To be sure, The Trout isn’t all there is to the “Trout” Quintet. It’s just one of five movements, inserted between a scintillating Scherzo—two brisk, sharply accented panels framing a more relaxed Trio section—and a dance-like finale marked Allegro giusto, in two mirror-image parts. Despite its leisurely pace, the fourth-movement Andantino has neither the emotional profundity nor the harmonic adventurousness of the sensuous Andante that precedes it. Nevertheless, the playful theme and its five contrasting variations are the very heart of the quintet. One can well imagine the delighted shock of recognition that early nineteenth-century listeners must have felt as the five players put the familiar tune through a series of increasingly intricate elaborations, each one featuring a different instrument or pair of instruments (including the decidedly untrout-like double bass), before reprising it in all its pristine simplicity.

The first-movement Allegro vivace takes a cue from the rippling sextuplets that underlie the original piano-vocal Trout: the ascending triplets in the piano’s opening bars are soon revealed as one of the movements organizing motifs. In similar fashion, the finale builds on rhythmic patterns associated with Schubert’s song. (Try tapping out the main theme at half-tempo and think of swimming fish.) Schubert apportions the thematic material more or less equally between piano and strings, a characteristically economical way of varying his tonal palette. Harmonically, the quintet is constructed as a kind of double arch, with the F-major Andante and D-major Scherzo bridging the A-major pillars of the first, third and fifth movements. There are, however, some surprising twists and turns, notably the excursion into the harmonically remote realm of F-sharp minor for the second theme of the Andante, a darkly intense duet for viola and cello.

Schubert wrote the “Trout” Quintet at the behest of Sylvester Paumgartner, a wealthy mine manager and patron of the arts in the small Austrian town of Steyr, just south of Linz. They met in the summer of 1819, when the composer was vacationing in the mountains with his singer friend Michael Vogl. Paumgartner apparently played the cello well enough to give a passable account of the challenging score. Schubert, at all events, was happy to leave the priceless manuscript in his possession; not until after the composer’s death in 1828 did Vogl think to retrieve it. (Sadly, the autograph has since vanished.) A year later, Josef Czerny published the quintet both in its original form and in a transcription for piano duet. Thus launched, the “Trout” Quintet quickly established itself as a classic of the chamber-music repertory. A leading Viennese journal, the Wiener allgemeine Theaterzeitung, reported in 1829 that “this quintet has already, at the publisher’s instigation, received several private performances and has been declared to be a masterpiece by the musical connoisseurs present.”

© 2014 Harry Haskell

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Artist Bios

Shai Wosner, piano

Pianist Shai Wosner has attracted international recognition for his exceptional artistry, musical integrity and creative insight. His performances of a broad range of repertoire communicate his imaginative programming and intellectual curiosity.

Mr. Wosner has been widely praised for his interpretations of Franz Schubert’s solo works, both in concert and in recording. He presented Schubert’s music in recital throughout the 2013-14 season in Santa Fe, Berkeley, London, San Miguel de Allende, Mexicom and other cities. His solo recording released by Onyx in October 2011, features a selection of works by Schubert that incorporate elements of folk music, and he performs solo works by Schubert and Missy Mazzoli on a new recording to be released by Onyx in November.

His orchestral engagements this season include a return to the Hamburg Symhony following his debut with the orchestra last year; his debut with the Orchestre symphonique de Québec, and performances with the Indianapolis Symphony and Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. He also performs solo recitals in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Eugene, Oregon, and a duo recital with violinist Jennifer Koh in Santa Barbara as part of their new “Bridge to Beethoven” series.

Mr. Wosner is widely sought after as a chamber musician. He has collaborated with such esteemed artists as Martin Fröst, Lynn Harrell, Dietrich Henschel, Cho-Liang Lin, Christian Tetzlaff and Pinchas Zukerman. Since his solo recital debut in March 2009, he has become a welcome guest at 92Y, appearing with the Tokyo String Quartet in March 2010 and baritone Wolfgang Holzmair in January 2012.

Born in Israel, Mr. Wosner is a recipient of an Avery Fisher Career Grant as well as a Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award. His latest album, recorded with frequent recital partner violinist Jennifer Koh, titled Signs, Games + Messages and featuring works by Janáček, Bartók and Kurtág, was released by Cedille Records in October 2013. In 2010 he released a disc exploring the musical connections between Brahms and Schoenberg, including Brahms’ Handel Variations and Fantasies Op. 116, and Schoenberg's Six Little Pieces, Op. 19, and Suite for Piano, Op. 25, on Onyx. His website is shaiwosner.com.

Photo: Marco Borggreve

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Parker Quartet

Formed in 2002, the Grammy Award-winning Parker Quartet (Daniel Chong, violin; Ying Xue, violin; Jessica Bodner, viola; Kee-Hyun Kim, cello) began its international touring after winning the Concert Artists Guild Competition as well as the Grand Prix and Mozart prizes at the Bordeaux International String Quartet Competition in France. Chamber Music America awarded the Quartet the prestigious biennial Cleveland Quartet Award for the 2009 through 2011 seasons.

The Parker Quartet recently joined the faculty of Harvard University’s Department of Music as Blodgett Artists-in-Residence. It is continuing its visiting residency at the University of South Carolina, and from 2008 to 2013 it was quartet-in-residence with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.

Highlights of the Quartet’s 2014/2015 season include the premiere of a new string quartet by Augusta Read Thomas as part of its four-concert series at Harvard University, and return engagements at London’s Wigmore Hall and Music at Amherst. The Quartet also continues to be a strong supporter of violist Kim Kashkashian’s Music for Food project by participating in concerts throughout the Boston area for the benefit of the Boston Food Bank.

Performance highlights from recent seasons include appearances at Carnegie Hall, the Library of Congress, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Wigmore Hall in London, the Musikverein in Vienna and the Seoul Arts Center. In April 2012 the Parker Quartet made its 92Y debut appearing with violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and pianist Anne-Marie McDermott.

The Quartet’s recording of György Ligeti’s complete works for string quartet on the Naxos label won the 2011 Grammy Award for best chamber music performance. Its debut release, Bartók’s String Quartets Nos. 2 and 5 for Zig-Zag Territoires, also won high critical praise. Its website is parkerquartet.com.

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Timothy Cobb, double bass

Bassist Timothy Cobb joined the New York Philharmonic as Principal Bass, The Redfield D. Beckwith Chair, in May 2014, after serving as principal bass of The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and principal bass of the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra since 1989. He is a former member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Cobb also serves as principal bass for Valery Gergeiv’s World Orchestra for Peace. He has been designated a UNESCO Artist for Peace from his affiliation with the World Orchestra.

Mr. Cobb has an ongoing collaboration with actor Stephen Lang, for whom he recorded a solo bass soundtrack for Mr. Lang’s animated short film The Wheatfield, which depicts a human drama from the Battle of Gettysburg. The two were invited to Gettysburg to perform on the 150th anniversary of the battle.

Mr. Cobb serves as bass department chair for The Juilliard School as well as on the faculties of the Manhattan School of Music, Purchase College and Rutgers University. He is also a distinguished visiting artist for Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. Mr. Cobb can be heard on all Metropolitan Opera recordings released after 1986, as well as on a recording of Giovanni Bottesini’s duo bass music with bassist Thomas Martin on the Naxos label.

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Details & Ordering

  • Shai Wosner and the Parker Quartet: The Schubert Effect 2

    Date: Sun, Feb 1, 2015, 3 pm

    Location: Lexington Avenue at 92nd St

    Venue: Kaufmann Concert Hall

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